“Put on a happy face.” That’s the tagline for Joker, the latest interpretation of DC Comics’ super villain and pop culture icon to hit the big screen. And while there’s not much content throughout the film to warrant a happy face, director Todd Philipps and the award-worthy performance by Joaquin Phoenix are more than enough to warrant a look of awe and astonishment in easily one of the best films of the year so far.
Watch It: If you want to see a gripping and stunning performance by the lead actor, experience an epic and haunting musical score, sweeping cinematography, and a somber and unforgettable character study through his story.
Skip It: If you want a bloodless superhero film that has Batman in it. This is, without question, a psychological thriller that centers on the mental instability of the main character.
Many critics have stated how much Joker has altered the comic-book genre. Aside from the fact there isn’t technically a “comic-book” genre, Joker is not a superhero film, as something I’ll say upfront. We watch and observe a man named Arthur Fleck, played by Phoenix, who struggles through the pain of mental disorders, bullying, isolation, and deception.
Phoenix is clearly front and center as Arthur Fleck in this origin story, essentially, for the character Joker. Every tear, every laugh in attempt of fitting in, and every burst of anger reveals a performance this year that will be hard to beat in the upcoming awards season. Aside from other aspects of the film, Phoenix carries the story through and through.
What did take me by surprise was how amazing the film is all around. In keeping this a review of the movie itself, without jumping into social commentary on the film, Philipps proves that he can direct spectacular movies that are outside of his past work, like comedies The Hangover, Road Trip, and Old School. The camera work is extraordinary, and I simply could not get enough of the musical score, coursing through every scene and composed by Icelandic musician Hildur Guðnadóttir. (Don’t ask me to pronounce!)
Lastly, as it may go without saying for a Joker movie, the costume, makeup and hair departments also accurately ring true of a dark and struggling Gotham City, reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. It’s Taxi Driver, in fact, that Philipps drew much of his inspiration from. Fortunately for viewers, we don’t get the sense of a cheap imitation, but rather a skilled director who knows how to craft an original story while still implementing inspirations and using a pop culture icon.
Joker gets a strong recommendation from me for those who want to see well-made art and a well-made film, with no surprise from me if it receives multiple Oscar nominations. Many today want to point the finger at art and blame creativity as the source for violence in our societies. Yet what Joker does in my opinion so brilliantly, in opposition to other films that unnecessarily glorify violence, is reflect our current culture and shed light on areas of our real, skin and bone societies that still have a long ways to go.
Zimm Score: 8.8/10